Evolution in the Desert: Scale and Discontinuity in the Central Negev (Israel) in the fourth Millennium BCE

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The trajectories of social and cultural change in the 4th millennium BCE in the desert regions, south of the Beersheva Basin, reflect shifting economic activities, internal technological and typological evolution, possibly shifting environmental parameters, and ultimately, at the end of the period, major changes in the nature of desert-sown relations. In particular, Timnian settlement systems vary between three periods, the late 5th—early 4th millennium, the mid-4th millennium and the early 3rd millennium BCE. These systems seem to reflect both the external economics of trade between the desert and settled regions, the specifics of the geography and changing environments of the region, and the nature of desert zone subsistence economy, herding, gathering, and occasionally opportunistic agriculture. Domestic material culture in the desert, primarily lithic industries but also including ground stone, beads, and shells, evolved internally, showing what appears to be gradual change with no evidence for major new technologies, although metallurgy certainly evolves. Although some of these changes correspond to social and material variation seen in the north, in general the basic tenor of culture change in the desert is of a different order than that in the settled zone, reflecting a different set of cultural and social parameters, essentially a more limited environment and smaller population. Given this background, the northern periodization frameworks do not obtain in the desert. Moreover, given the essentially mosaic nature of geographic and cultural variability in the Levant in general, it is probably unrealistic to expect linear and perfectly correlated trends of change, even over relatively short distances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-148
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


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